A Few Words With...Neal Morse

This interview was conducted in the fall of 2000. I was tempted to update the references to the "new year," but I've decided to leave everything unaltered and unfiltered!

  PS: With the exception of some songs on your solo album, the great majority of your lyrics are very positive in tone. Is this by intent, or coincidence?

  NM: That's funny, because up until recently I thought I was quite negative. I thought songs like the "Good Don't Last" and "Strange World" were kind of negative in tone, but I've become very happy in recent years and I'm sure that's coming across in the lyrics. So I guess it's by intent AND coincidence. I don't know if it's coincidence that I've gotten happier..... it has to do with a lot of different things. It's not really an intent I don't sit down and try to write something positive that's just what comes out of me because that's where I'm at.

  PS: Did your experience writing & playing in TransAtlantic in any way effect your work on V?  

NM: Yeah, it did quite a bit. Mike wanted to stretch out a lot of the instrumental passages in the TransAtlantic album and I was against that in the beginning, to be quite frank, and I wound up thinking those parts were really cool and so we extended quite a few of the solos and some of the instrumental things. I thought "it will be all right , it's not going to be boring if we extend them." I think I often find long solos to be a little bit dull, but I wound up liking them a lot on the TransAtlantic album so I opened that up a little bit on the new Spock's album. Also, opening up to the other guys' ideas more - I think that made a big difference on this record.
PS: Tell me how "The Great Nothing" came together. Was it separate songs coming together as one, or was it intended as one piece from the very start?  

NM: It was intended as one piece from the very start. I wrote that song about four years ago and I've been saving it just for this particular Spock's album. It really came out as one piece, I just kind of followed it along where I felt it wanted to go. It has a couple of older themes I threw in it. The music that plays right after the initial theme stops, when it's just organ, bass and drums is from a musical I wrote in the early 90's that never went anywhere. I thought I might start lifting themes from it so I took a couple of things from older pieces of music but as I recall it's been quite a while since I wrote it, but it came out as one big thing a twenty seven minute long thing.  

PS: I'd like to get your thoughts behind a few songs. Let's start with "Goodbye to yesterday" from V.  

NM: That is another older song that Dave and Al had wanted to put on album since the "Kindness of Strangers" album, but we had "June" for Kindness, and then we had "Distance of the Sun" for "Day for Night," so I didn't feel we could have another quiet, pretty song on there. I'm thinking about "Goodbye to Yesterday" .....that's really based on a lot of my forum experiences. I did this thing called the Landmark Forum that is about putting the past in the past and creating new futures for yourself and that's a lot of what that lyric is about. In fact, 'do you have your baggage or do your bags have you?' is something a Forum leader said to me once because I think the whole thing is about owning your bags and not resisting them. So that's a few behind the scenes thoughts on that song.  

PS: Going back a bit, what was the inspiration for "Go the Way You Go"?  

NM: Wow! That has been a long time. I remember writing the chorus in the car. I was trying to transform my relationship to LA traffic and so I would have a little Casio keyboard in my car and a tape recorder and I actually wrote the chorus of that with my friend Doug in mind to sing the middle part, he had a nice pretty voice, we were in a cover band together at that time. I was originally thinking that I was going to have Doug in Spock's Beard because I knew I needed a higher voice to harmonize with and at that I point I didn't know we were going to have Nick with us because there was no band at that point. So I was thinking about Doug actually being the guitar player in this originally. He now plays with Jewel or I think he's out with Tracy Chapman right now. Anyway, Doug is doing well. Again, "Go the Way You Go" was inspired by the Forum. I had just gotten out of the advanced course of the Forum and I was really turned on and inspired about the kind of music that I wanted to do. I'd been trying to do a lot of singer/song writer stuff and that wasn't going anywhere and it was very frustrating and the forum kind of opened me up to do this BIG music like the intro to "Go the Way You Go". That's where that all sprang from.  

PS: As I mentioned earlier, there was less of a positive tone lyrically to a portion of the songs on your solo album. What inspired "Lost Cause"?  

NM: Well, I felt like one for many years, that's for sure. There I was.... thirty-four, thirty-five, never had a cut, never had anything happen in the music business. I felt like, the theme of my life was, "well, I lost but I guess I can still be happy". I was kind of the happy loser for several years and that's why there are a lot of songs on my first solo album dealing with that theme. There are several like that I think "Nowhere Fast" is kind of a happy loser song.  

PS: "Emma" has almost a Brian Wilson feel to the lyric. Was there an actual Emma?  

NM: No, there wasn't. I made that up when I was about nineteen years old. That song is really old. Maybe I was twenty, so that song was actually written in 1980. So that gives you a clue to my age.  

PS: I'd like to touch on the TransAtlantic project. I'm sure everyone came in with some sort of expectations as to how it might turn out. Having said that - looking back, what surprised you most about how it all turned out?  

NM: What surprised me most was how much I like listening to the album. When I first heard the mixes I didn't like them at all. I just didn't think there was enough ear candy, I didn't think there was enough effects on the vocals. I just didn't like a lot of the choices that Rich made initially and what surprises me now when I put it on "I really like it". It's funny how once you get use to mixes they just become how the record IS, you just like it. When I first heard the mixes of the Light album I couldn't listen to the album for about a year I was so upset about the mixes. So it's funny how you can sort of adjust and everything is all right.  

PS: Both you & Roine are very strong vocalists. How was it decided who would sing what?  

NM: We pretty much sang the parts that we wrote. I actually wanted Roine to sing "We All Need Some Light" because he did a scratch vocal on it that I thought was quite good, but he was against it.  

PS: The live shows featured a few Beatles songs & a Genesis medley. Beyond the fun of playing them, were they big musical influences on all 4 players?  

NM: Oh yes, I think so. I could say more, but I guess I won't.  

PS: Looking over your entire body of work, if you had to pick 4 songs that you feel best represent your range as a songwriter, what might they be?  

NM: Wow, that's a tough one. I think "Harms Way", I'm really into "Harms way," "June." My range as a songwriter? Well you'll have to listen to my Christmas album that's coming up because that has a Sinatra parody, and Elvis parody, there you get to really experience my range as a songwriter. I still like "Emma" quite a lot. I think my solo album on its own pretty much presents quite a range of songwriting from "A Whole Other Trip" to "Emma" to "Living Out Loud" it's quite a broad range. Actually I always felt that that was one of my problems that I have too broad a range and I could never stick to one particular style.  

PS: Using the same reasoning, what 4 would you choose as a performer?  

NM: I really like performing "Go the Way You Go", "June", "Emma", and I'd like to perform some straight rock thing like "That Which Doesn't Kill Me" I haven't really done that. I'd like to put together my own band like a regular rock band, I think that would be fun, but my plate is a bit full.  

PS: Can we look to seeing Spock's Beard play live in the Northeast any time soon?  

NM: Not any time soon, but hopefully in the New Year.  

PS: Who or what would you say inspired you most to want to become a songwriter?  

NM: The Beatles, definitely John and Paul. No question about that.  

PS: What was the first concert you ever saw?  

NM: Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath at the LA forum.  
PS: Where was the first paying gig you ever played?  

NM: It was a wedding in San Fernando, a Mexican wedding that the cops wound up busting in and beating everyone up. A little fight broke out while we were playing. Me and Al and our other brother Richard were playing "When We Get Married" the cops busted in and started beating everyone with billy clubs.  

PS: What 6 albums do you never tire of listening to?  

NM: The Beatles - "White Album," The Who - "Who's Next," Genesis - "A Trick of the Tail," King Crimson - "Red," Yes - "Close to the Edge," Sheryl Crow - her second record.  

PS: What do you think are the 3 worst mistakes musicians make trying to break into the music business?  

NM: Trying to break into the music business that's their first mistake, it's horrible, it's a nightmare, quit while you still can. Ha, Ha. The 3 worst mistakes might be trying to be commercial, trying to do something that you think will sell is a mistake, I found. I never had any luck at it even though I thought I was really good at it I still think I'm really good at it. Living in Los Angeles, moving to Los Angeles I think that is a big mistake. LA has too many burnt out musicians; don't go there and become one. Third worst mistake is leaving your valuables in the dressing room, never do it. Take your wallet on stage.  

PS: Will there be a second TransAtlantic album & tour?  

NM: Yeah, were talking about when to do it, we're talking about doing it in January as far as recording goes and touring were looking for the spring or something maybe in the summer.  

PS: What's next for Spock's Beard?  

NM: We're going to be doing some touring in America to support the new record in the coming year and we're looking at doing that at the end of January and February. We're just gearing up for the next tour to be able to play this stuff live.  

Table Of Contents